Written by: Nanny Secours
Unfortunately, our society has the habit of wanting to label everything, of needing things neatly packaged so we know what to expect. Without realizing it, we have a tendency to label those around us too, and children more often than others, e.g.: “That kid definitely has OCD!” or “Suzy’s so emotional...she must be bipolar.” Parents want to know if their child is normal or not. Each child is unique and is HIS OWN PERSON, period! It’s essential that parents understand how important it is not to label their children.
From a very young age, labels such as emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), ADHD (Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder); or problem child, fearful, anxious, are used to define children. Needless to say these are rarely flattering! Regardless of the labels or their severity, they can have a significant (and even disastrous) impact on the self-esteem and self-concept a child develops about himself. Whether it’s a daycare worker, a teacher or a parent, no one intentionally wants to harm the child, but it’s important to be mindful of the descriptions we give off to children. This doesn’t mean that symptoms of disorders should be ignored if they present themselves, but rather that the professionals should be the ones to make the diagnosis.
The role of the parents and adults who are a part of a child’s life is to see and believe his potential. The more the child trusts in his strengths, the more he will be able to persevere in the face of adversity. Labelling a child can only limit his development. If someone is told over and over that they’re hopeless at something, they’ll eventually believe it! For example, if a child is told regularly that he can’t tie his shoelaces, there comes a point where he won’t even want to try...until the day someone says: “Yes, you can do it! Come on, I'll show you how!”
Likewise, the more a child is told he never pays attention, the less he’ll listen and the more he’ll believe he’s incapable of doing so. It’s important that we believe in our children and focus on their needs. Support your child, e.g.: “I know you can calm down. Come on, let’s breathe together.” or “Well done! I saw you lend your toy; I knew could share.”
Keeping the focus on the child’s qualities, while avoiding labels, can encourage children to become healthy and happy. If you do use labels, these should be positive! “My child is a great athlete,” “My son has a big heart; he's very generous,” “Our daughter always has a smile for us; she's our sunshine,” “She’s the artist in this family,” etc.
We have to believe in our children for them to believe in themselves!